Wednesday, March 28, 2012

‘Access’ secures freedom of access to online information in Pakistan

Ernest Dempsey — Unlike many NGOs that have been doing nominal/paper work in Pakistan, the international NGO Access has achieved something of national and international importance in a very short duration, i.e. driving people locally and internationally to protect the freedom of access to information online. In its email notification to supporters who signed its petition, Access thanked all to have their voice heard and stopping Pakistani authorities from the planned installation of a national firewall that would have limited the public’s access to online information the state disliked.

Last month, the news of Pakistani government’s plans to block its citizens from free access to online information created concerns among advocates of human rights within and outside the country. The government had placed an ad in papers inviting technical expertise for filtering and blocking Internet site addresses. Access took notice and started efforts on more than one front to nip the draconian plan before it could swallow the freedom of millions of Pakistani internet users.

The organization urged software companies and local technical service providers not to step up to the government’s plans for assistance. In matter of weeks, the petition launched by the organization received about 20, 000 signatures of people supporting freedom of access to information. Access then delivered letters to many surveillance companies across the globe to stand up for the rights of Pakistani people. All along, the organization also kept the issue alive in media, drawing international attention.  All these efforts proved fruitful as the Pakistani government dropped its plans of firewall construction.

Pakistan is a country where human rights violations and violence against women and children have been on a rise for years. The voice of its people, albeit a handful in number in proportion to its huge population, found a major outlet of expression via the worldwide web. Social media and blogs made the voice of its people heard. This is particularly true of Balochistan where the cry for independence has become a slogan synchronous with life itself, leading to violent and torturous suppression of people active in the independence movement. Since the independence of both state and private media in the country has been subject to question, Internet has been a source of information about grave national issues, which otherwise would never have been explored in sufficient detail, if at all.

The kind of activism Access illustrated in moving people against an oppressive plan shows that organizations staying true to their motto can and do bring about the change we need. The only sad part of this story is that no notable protest came from the people of Pakistan who were gifted this freedom by Access, though many must have signed the petition launched by Access. At the end of the day, freedom bagged the victory-one well-deserved.